More and more bullying cases are being reported each year. About 160,000 children stay at home due to bullying going on in school. Although bullying has been around for so long, there has been a great amount of media response to the topic these past three or four years. With TV shows portraying storylines and situations in which their characters get bullied, it is interesting to notice how the bullying in question is being represented. One can’t help but wonder if what we are seeing on TV is what happens in real life, or if it’s just being exaggerated for shock effect or to gain more viewers. A clear example of bullying being represented in current media is the American TV series: Glee. The show is about a group of teenagers who can’t seem to find their place in the social circles of high school, they join glee club so they can fit in and ultimately be accepted for who they are. Since the series began in 2009, it has had a massive following with audience members all around the globe. It’s attracted more viewers of different age groups than its intended demographic and overall it’s having a successful run. With this information the following question arose: To what extent is high school bullying portrayed accurately in the TV Series “Glee”?
Glee has been chosen specifically because during its bullying arc ratings were generally positive. With the highest viewed episode being an estimated 26.8 million viewers and its lowest 8.85 million, it’s safe to say that the audience watching at home was subjected to their representation of bullying that Glee had made. The show throughout its three complete seasons has referenced bullying in a minor or major way, ranging from emotional to physical abuse. Since the show has gained a great amount of followers during its run, teenagers and adults alike may feel identified with the characters because of the setting. Since it is portrayed in high school, teens can relate because they are currently living it and adults can find similarities with their experience because they’ve already lived it.
The main idea is to compare real life situations and events that have happened in American high schools with moments in the show, then discuss the accuracy in the portrayal of such events and see if the television reenactment does the real life situation justice.
Bullying is an epidemic that everybody can experience. Whether you’re in high school, college, or well into adulthood, you are always going to find someone that will hurt you physically or emotionally, even if they meant to or not. It is fairly common in school periods because children and teenagers are experiencing changes in their personal and social lives.
“Bullying is widespread and perhaps the most underreported safety problem on American school campuses” (Batsche, G. M. & Knoff, H. M). School is most likely to have this problem because there are such a vast number of students all under the same roof of different ethnicities, ages, social groups, etc. It’s impossible for everybody to get along, and some are more inclined to show it than others.
Bullying by definition is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose (StopBullying). There are many different kind of bullying such as: physical, verbal, emotional, indirect, cyber, sexual harassment and hazing.
Bullying isn’t just punching or calling people names, there are various types of bullying that can be described. One of the different types is verbal bullying, or also known as verbal abuse. It is defined as name-calling, making offensive remarks, or joking about a person’s religion, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or the way they look. Verbal aggression is when a bully teases someone. It can also include a bully making verbal threats of violence or aggression against someone’s personal property. 46.5% of all bullying in schools is the verbal type (Library.ThinkQuest, 2012).
The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) indicates that, nationwide, 20% of students in grades 9-12 experienced bullying.
Media and bullying
Glee is a modern example of bullying portrayal, with plotlines such as the main characters in the actual glee club get harassed for being in said club and end up having slushies thrown at them: the perfect example of hazing. Also, cyber bullying makes a brief appearance in two episodes: one where the main character (Rachel Berry) receives some nasty comments for uploading a video of her singing and another situation where a secondary character (Dave Karofsky) is receiving negative comments on Facebook when his friends find out he’s gay.
One of the main plot lines the show handled in the second season of the series is having one of the main characters (Kurt Hummel) being tormented by the football team not only because he’s in glee club, but because of his sexual orientation. He ends up being thrown in dumpsters, being slushied more often than his friends, and even being sexually harassed. The bullying got so bad that the solution he found was best for him was to transfer schools to get away from the nonstop torment.
The fact of the matter is that bullying is indeed a serious threat to a person’s wellbeing, we are only now seeing the problem represented in the media in the most relatable and common setting: in a high school environment. Since television is a common and effective way to transmit information and entertainment, viewers are subject to see whatever the media presents them.
How is it represented?
Bullying has been represented in the media for years now. It’s a common topic for TV shows because everybody is subject to experience it during their lifetime. Since it’s a common life experience during one’s teenage years, we can all relate to it one way or another, whether we’re being the bully or the one being bullied. But since the main idea of this essay is to analyze the American representation and its accuracy, the examples presented will be compared to real life articles or situations that have occurred in the United States.
Representation in media outlets is important for just about any topic because these outlets are what people listen, watch and read. It plays a big part in influencing its audience because we have a tendency to repeat what we see on our TV screens, or what we read on the newspaper or heard on the radio. So while watching a show that is touching the subject of bullying, the accuracy of this topics’ portrayal is important where you want to prove a point or exaggerate it just to send a message.
In September 2010, a freshman at Rutgers University died in an apparent suicide after his roommate secretly filmed him in an intimate encounter and then streamed the video over the Internet (New York Times, 2010). This is an example of a case of cyber bullying we can compare with “Glee”. In the third seasons fourteenth episode titled “On my way”, one of plot lines centers around the fact that the character, Dave Karofsky, is outed at his school and this causes him to be bullied by his football teammates in the locker room. His classmates bully him via his Facebook profile and Karofsky attempts suicide by hanging himself, but his father find him just in time and is taken to the hospital. This news causes grief and shock amongst students and teachers from his old school, especially Kurt Hummel.
While these situations aren’t identical with the premise, both subjects were bullied via internet and due to the fact that they were gay. Both students were harassed because of their sexual orientation and it led to one’s death and one nearly dying. The show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, has made it clear that he wanted to portray a bullying storyline within the show. “Sometimes that’s an accurate depiction of what happens” (Ryan Murphy, 2010). And while presenting this quote, Murphy has been true to his word, with situations like the one stated above, not leaving any details out of what can truly happen in intense bullying cases.
Stereotypes and Bullying
The definition for stereotypes is “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing” (Oxford Dictionary, 2012). Stereotypes are preconceived perceptions people have about a group of people, it is extraordinarily common in society and they can lead to bullying starting from a young age. Although stereotypes may be true in some cases, making a general assumption about a group of people is hurtful. In media cases, we are presented with these stereotypes because the character is funnier that way or it makes for a good punch line.
But it’s also important that the stereotypical bullying process is mentioned. For example, bullies are often stereotyped to being big, bulky, and dumb and they will always pick on the little guy. This has been proven as false. Anybody can be a bully, gender doesn’t matter, what you look like doesn’t either, friends, even family members can be bullies sometimes.
In “Glee”, there are a handful of stereotypes that range from the typical jock character to the “really smart Asian kid”. In a sense, it works with the show because it dwells into the problems these characters face with their respective stereotypes, although that’s not always the case.
In season three, episode four; they introduced Rory Flanagan, an Irish exchange student with a heavy accent and always wears green clothes. This makes one of the main characters (Brittany Pierce) to think that he’s a leprechaun, and proceeds to ask if he can grant her three wishes. Another bullying
Physical abuse is any intentional and unwanted contact with you or something close to your body. Sometimes abusive behavior does not cause pain or even leave a bruise, but it’s still unhealthy (Love is Respect, 2007). In bullying, since the target age that is being analyzed is in between teens ages fifteen through eighteen, the majority of bullying done in high schools doesn’t involve more physical contact that the typical locker shove. Although, there are some cases in which people do take it too far, making victims scared of even going to school because of what other things the bullies can do.
In 2011, Brooke Bliss, a sixteen year old high school student in New York, said that she has been bullied for years at school. Once, several girls ganged up on her and started calling her names. Then, the bullying turned physical. Brooke said that other teens pushed her into a wall and off of a weight machine, causing injuries to her hip and side (CNY Central, 2011).
In “Glee”, this type of bullying is also being demonstrated. With Kurt being constantly being pushed into lockers (mostly during the second season), and in the beginning of the season being thrown into a dumpster, it’s clearly a method of bullying going over the verbal barrier of just simply teasing somebody. This is inflicting physical harm on a person, meaning there’s a chance for visible injuries and that have to take serious care of depending on the damage done.
With the real life and fictitious examples, comparing them side by side, the topic itself is being treated exactly as it is. Glee is depicting a problem that occurs in high schools nationwide, and this is only one of the many types of bullying going on that we can only hear about from news articles, news broadcasts or even radio. Since we don’t go to these schools, the only thing we can rely on is our own experiences in school, or what we see in the media and believe it.
Hazing is a subtype of bullying that involves someone being forced to submit to humiliating treatment in order to earn membership in the group responsible for the hazing (Murray, 2006). The definition for hazing in its essence is to make someone do a really embarrassing task in order to be inside a group. But to what extent is that considered harmless when it involves people to do ridiculous tasks that could harm their wellbeing?
In Glee, the football team constantly throws frozen iced drinks (slushies) into the glee club members faces. It’s the “right of passage” for each glee club member because they are inaugurating them into the bottom of the food chain in their high school environment. They joined glee club, so the jocks make it their mission to throw slushies at them as a welcome gift.
While the standard definition of the term hazing refers mainly to joining a group voluntarily, and hazing is just the initiation process, the term can be taken halfway because albeit the glee club members did in fact join a group, the initiation process was mostly from the jocks, their bullies. Even if some of the jocks aren’t in glee club, they are being humiliated in front of the school to acknowledge their social status at school, according to Murray’s definition.
In season three’s “Micheal” episode, one of the other main characters (Blaine Anderson) has a slushie thrown at him by opposing glee club member Sebastian Smythe from the Warblers. It turns out that the slushie had rock salt in it, so when it hit Blaine in his face, it caused him to need eye surgery. While this was not Sebastian’s intention, it still caused noticeable physical harm.
Hazing may be all fun and games for the ones doing it, but it can lead to physical injury and emotional distress amongst those participating in it.
Perhaps the most common form of bullying is that of oral assaults -threats, derogatory name-calling, and insulting remarks about a person’s appearance, mental ability, race, religion, habits, family background, mode of speech, lifestyle, friends, sexual orientation, and more (Murray, 2006).
Verbal abuse is the use of words to cause harm to the person being spoken to. It is difficult to define and may take many forms. Similarly, the harm caused is often difficult to measure. The most commonly understood form is name-calling. Verbal abuse may consist of shouting, insulting, intimidating, threatening, shaming, demeaning, or derogatory language, among other forms of communication (USLegal, 2012).
With these two definitions we can see that the common denominator is using words to make a person feel bad. It is the most common form of bullying because it’s so easy to apply; while you’re walking down a hallway all you have to do is say something and walk away, leaving the bullied victim with an emotional scar instead of a physical one.
Throughout the shows history, Glee has made it clear that insults are the common bullying weapon.
Bullying Today, why now?
Bullying has been for as long as anyone can remember. With bullying being identified as early stages in life like grade school and kids getting progressively meaner the older they get, it’s no wonder kids and teens alike are afraid to go to school most of the time. Today, with the constant growth of cyber media and technology, these are being used as weapons along with their actual fists or words. It’s much easier for the bully to reach out to their victim throughout the internet rather than just seeking them out in person during school hours. It seems much safer for them because no one is there looking at the actual bullying taking place. Using the articles and their Glee counterparts, it’s safe to say that they are inspired by true events happening all across the country. They don’t follow the article on the dot, but they do portray a bullying situation similar to the examples stated. With Dave Karofsky, they managed to create a plot for the character similar to the bullying situation of the student from Rutgers University.
With the examples stated in the essay, the analysis of each one and their fictional representation is specific and sees the influence the show got from them so they could be demonstrated in the show. The problem with fictional representation is that we only see the problem for a split second, we only get vague details about what’s going on in the characters story, there’s only so much we can find out in a show with so many characters and different plot lines in a single episode.
One of the many reasons bullying has been brought to light by the media recently is due to the many suicides occurring in the period of September – October in 2010, the main cause being bullied to the extreme. Tyler Clementi from Rutgers University, he was cyber bullied. Seth Walsh, a 13 year old boy from Tehachapi also committed suicide because he was being bullied in school due to his sexual orientation. “By seventh grade, he was afraid to walk home from school” (Time Magazine, 2010). The cases were one after another, and this is the reason why it gained a lot of media attention. The fact that that in a single month four teenagers died to similar reasons, it made the news pretty quickly. This caused the education system to invest more in antibullying campaigns. Even President Obama asked for a 12% increase in their funding (2010).
While examining the accuracy of the fictional representation that Glee portrays, it has become clear that the bullying subject has been treated and portrayed as such. The show focuses on the high school glee club New Directions, portrayed as a group of underdogs with low popularity status, and how they also deal with personal and social issues. Since its main focus is high school, it is centered towards bullying affecting the teenage audience; therefore comparing it to the real life cases shown in the length of this essay is justified.
The show’s second season was heavy on the bullying plot, and focused often on recurring character, Kurt Hummel, who was bullied due to the fact that he was gay. But this is only one of many examples, their gym coach Sue Sylvester, has been shown to be portrayed as ruthless and aggressive to students and teachers alike, making it abundantly clear that she hates everybody but more particularly the glee club. She uses slurs, throws sticks at students, and in some cases, has pushed students into lockers.
Glee is a fictional TV show, and that has to be taken into consideration. Like all works of fiction, even if it takes place in a school, or in modern day times, things can be exaggerated or modified to fit the story. The purpose of media is to entertain their audience, and more specifically with television. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t take the lessons it can teach us when presented. When the audience watches a show, they can learn a great deal of things; this doesn’t leave Glee out of it. It made their audience become more aware of the degree bullying has increased all over schools in the country and that anybody can be a victim. They showed the causes, the consequences, and the emotional pain victims go through when bullied, they even added the bully’s point of view to explain why they did it.
In conclusion, bullying is a nationwide epidemic. According to the National Educational Association (2012) up to 13 million kids are bullied every year. Not everybody is bullied the exact same way, so representation in the media is important for it be well known amongst audiences nationwide. Although Glee may have moments where you ask yourself if that really happens or not (i.e., slushies in the face), it represents the bullying storyline as a case for their own character, basing their story with ones shown on the news and on the internet. It isn’t farfetched because there are people who can relate to the storyline whether or not it’s identical. So, bullying is presented as accurately as possible in the show. There are mentions of racial slurs, insults, stereotypes, and harassment; these are all elements in the bullying spectrum to use against their intended target. Maybe we’ll perceive it as exaggerated because we’ve never experienced it before, or our educational environment is completely different than the one being presented to us on TV, but the fact of the matter is that anybody could have been bullied like they have been on the Glee representation, and we’re only finding out about it now.
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